Rec centers have helped generations of Philadelphians grow up. Though their numbers are declining and their funding is drying up, these old-school institutions remain vital to the communities they serve.
Background: The center is named after Ramonita Negron Rivera, who was influential in building and empowering Philadelphia's Puerto Rican community until her death in the early '90s. The center's focus is on "at-risk youth on the street," says assistant recreation leader Julie Williams. Murals, many with a Latino theme, brighten things up both inside and outside (some of the non-Latino murals have been graffitied). A memorial on a fence separating the basketball court from the street bears tribute to a young man who was fatally shot while playing on the court.
Facilities: The TV room is air conditioned, and boasts a huge TV and DVD player. There's a full kitchen. There are arcade games in the Teen Center. The Police Athletic League (PAL) center's indoor basketball court is first-class, and the well-lit karate gym's wall is lined with trophies. The computer lab has 10 computers and two printers-all in remarkably good shape. A new playground made out of recycled guns collected from the public-a project coordinated by Philadelphia Safe and Sound-will be installed in the fall.
Programs: Among the free offerings are Narcotics Anonymous meetings, photography and computer lessons, PAL travel league baseball, flag football, PAL Positive Image for teenage girls, and HIV and STD testing. Among the paid offerings are karate ($30 a month depending on age), an after-school program ($5 a week) and summer day camp ($45 for six weeks). But the center's best known for its boxing program ($35 registration fee), coached by Humberto P�rez, a commissioner for the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission. P�rez, who completed the Boxing Trainer and Coach Program with the USA Boxing Association, has seen several of his charges go on to have successful amateur careers.
Eric Hank Gathers Recreation Center and Youth Access Center
Location: 25th and Diamond streets in North Philadelphia.
Background: Named after late basketball star Hank Gathers, who played at the center (then called Moylan Recreation Center), attended nearby Dobbins, and was an All-American forward at Loyola Marymount before collapsing during a championship game in 1990 and dying an hour later. Other big-time players honed their skills at the center, including Wilt Chamberlain, Sonny Hill, Dawn Staley and most recently, Maurice Rice. Staley is a major figure, co-sponsoring an after-school program and making occasional appearances. Her picture and newspaper clips detailing her accomplishments decorate every inch of free space at the center.
Facilities: There's a pool, a baseball diamond, two outdoor basketball courts, an indoor basketball gym, a computer lab and a kitchen. The pool is big, clean and busy. Indoor and outdoor basketball courts are in good condition. The baseball diamond is intact, but the outfield appears to be truncated by a train line; the field stops short and curves around awkwardly.
Programs: Among the free programs are Model Teen (a program that teaches etiquette and educates young people about health issues), Narcotics Anonymous, volleyball, cooking classes and various basketball leagues. During the school year preteen girls in the Dawn Staley After-School Program-which is free and sponsored by Nike and the Dawn Staley Foundation-learn computer programs and the basics of basketball while doing community service and learning about health issues. Joe Ferrero, the center's manager and a teacher at Roman Catholic High School, sometimes tutors high school kids who need to get a minimum SAT score to play basketball in college. Among the center's paid programs are summer day camp ($80, trips not included) and Elders Council (senior citizens take trips monthly, fee depends on the trip). The center also hosts basketball leagues sponsored by the Sixers Neighborhood Basketball League ($5 a player).
Lawncrest Youth Access Recreation Center
Location: Rising Sun and Comly in the Northeast. The neighborhood is a mix of residential and commercial.
Background: This is a family-oriented center. A table near the entrance holds pamphlets on topics ranging from HIV to avoiding the pressure to drink. A nearby poster asks, "Do you need help paying your heating bills?" There are a number of staff jobs for teenagers and young people, who wear shirts that say "Lawncrest P.E.A.C.E. [People Enjoying a Comfortable Experience] Staff." If kids in the Teen Activities Program don't arrive at the center on time, their parents are called. Lawncrest also dedicates part of its budget to Counseling or Referral Assistance, a nonprofit social services and youth development agency that offers counseling in a discreet trailer on rec center grounds.
Facilities: Pool, basketball gym, weight room ($50 a year for adults, $25 a year for high school students), two outdoor basketball courts, a playground, two tennis courts, four baseball fields, an outdoor stage, an outdoor roller hockey court, an outdoor volleyball court and an auditorium. The pool is huge, and the basketball courts are pretty spiffy. Though there are multiple baseball diamonds, the grass is overgrown in many spots.
Programs: There are aquanautics, a water exercise program for seniors (minimal fee); Alcoholics Anonymous; summer basketball leagues ($25 to $45, depending on the age group); before- and after-school clubs for students in elementary school (before school is $25 a week, after school is $30 a week, and it's $50 a week for both programs); day camp ($75 a week includes trips); karate ($20 a month); soccer ($50 a season); women's volleyball league ($20 a person); tot recreation ($55 a month for 3- and 4-year-olds, $75 a month for 5-year-olds); National Junior Tennis League ($60 per individual, $85 per family); Teen Activities Program, which includes fashion design, trips, job training and other activities ($5 a week); and Youth Works, a special program in which kids from the Teen Activities Programs are selected to serve as counselors' aides at the day camp while completing projects on "how to stay fit through recreation" (which satisfies a high school community service credit for them). Swimming is free.
Kingsessing Recreation Center
Location: 50th and Kingsessing streets in Southwest Philadelphia, hemmed in by row homes and a train line.
Background: The neighborhood may be troubled, but it has managed to keep a watchful eye on its rec center. The Kingsessing Neighborhood Advisory Council has been "instrumental in getting improvements for the center," especially the teen center, says center director George Sumner. The outdoor basketball courts, tennis courts and pool were all rehabbed at the beginning of the summer, and a new playground is under construction.
Facilities: There's a pool, two separate indoor basketball gyms, a fitness room ($15 a month), an auditorium, an arcade room for teens, four outdoor basketball courts, three baseball fields, a handball wall, two tennis courts and a computer lab. The outdoor basketball courts, tennis courts and pool all look updated and state-of-the-art. The lobby is squeaky clean and sophisticated-looking, with stately benches and a mural celebrating African-American history.